President’s Message—Challenges of Water Conservation Long-Term Planning Bills

The Orange County Water District (OCWD; the District) actively engages on legislation by communicating the Board of Directors’ policies and positions to state and federal legislators and government officials. By working closely with these decision makers, it ensures Orange County’s water rights are protected and water reliability objectives are achieved.

The District has been closely following a number of water conservation bills that have been approved recently by the California Assembly. We are in agreement with some and others, we feel, need some additional work.

The Orange County Water District (OCWD; District) supports AB 968 (Rubio) that would establish new water efficiency targets for water suppliers in a manner that accounts for local conditions, while also recognizing and incentivizing sustainable, balanced approaches to water management, including investments in recycled water. It would also establish a collaborative stakeholder process to continue improvement in water-use efficiency beyond 2025, and would preserve the Legislature’s authority and oversight over long-term water use target setting while making water-use efficiency a way of life in California.

OCWD also supports AB 1654 (Rubio) that would enhance drought planning, preparation and reporting by water suppliers. The bill would establish new water supply and demand reporting requirements for urban water suppliers to the Department of Water Resources, thus enabling the state to identify water suppliers that are experiencing actual water shortages to better focus available state assistance during a drought emergency. AB 1654 also would protect and incentivize local investments in resilient water supplies by ensuring that a supplier would not be required to reduce its use of available water supplies beyond the steps specified in its water shortage contingency analysis.

AB 1667, AB, 1668 and AB 1669, introduced by Assembly Member Friedman (D-Burbank), deal with water-use efficiency standards and use reporting. OCWD opposes more state-level control being proposed in the legislation. In addition, AB 1668 would require energy intensity information from water suppliers without stating a specific purpose for that data’s collection—an unneeded burden.

AB 1427 (Eggman) would provide that certain uses of water stored underground constitute a beneficial use of water. The specific language of concern refers to “a beneficial use of water for which an appropriation may be made if the stored water is thereafter applied to beneficial use…”  The District believes that the language is problematic.

The District is charged with sustainably managing the Orange County Groundwater Basin. OCWD’s Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) produces 103,000 acre-feet of advanced purified water per year which is stored in the groundwater basin. The language in AB 1427 would arguably require OCWD to obtain State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) permits for underground storage of both imported water and GWRS water. This is a major departure from existing law, and would make it more difficult for OCWD to store water in the groundwater basin so that it can be more efficiently utilized.  OCWD is opposed to AB 1427 unless amended to strike the words “for which an appropriation may be made.”

These bills have been part of robust conversation within the water community. The next step for the bills is to head to the Assembly Appropriations Committee where they will be reviewed and could be amended once more before going to the governor for approval.

OCWD will continue to advocate on these and other matters on behalf of our member agencies and their customers in north and central Orange County.